Third Street Cemetery

Photo added by Dan Carriker

Third Street Cemetery

Also known as Kellys Bluff Cemetery

Dubuque, Dubuque County, Iowa, USA
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Third Street Cemetery has also been known as "Kelly's Bluff Cemetery", "The Old Catholic Cemetery" or St. Raphael's Cemetery".

The Third Street Cemetery came into use about 1833, the first burials reported to be victims of the cholera epidemic of 1833. The cemetery was consecrated by Bishop Mathias Loras in 1839, two years after the diocese was created although it had been in use for some time. From 1839 to 1856 the cemetery was the official and only cemetery of the Catholic Church in Dubuque.

In 1856 a new cemetery was opened south of Dubuque and called Key West, it was renamed Mt. Olivet Cemetery in 1901.

About the time Mt. Olivet was opened the Third Street Cemetery expanded in size perhaps due to a cholera epidemic which caused over crowding.

Church records are almost non-existent, St. Raphael's Cathedral Burial Register covers August 1839 to May 1855 but many listings are missing. For instance only three deaths are recorded for the last five months of 1839 and only five deaths for all of 1855. In addition some burials occurred without the intervention of the church, one entry reads "2 children have been buried by parents without giving notice of it to the clergy."

The cemetery fell into disuse beginning in the 1860's. A news article in 1865 decried the dilapidated state of the cemetery. Another in the 1870's mentions "a graveyard in our midst, abandoned to desecration." A letter written in 1876 states"The fences are down and the cattle and hogs make pasture on the graves of the loved departed."
The last person known to have been buried in the Third Street Cemetery is Mary Naugle, an infant who died of convulsions on July 31, 1880.

Upon final closing the Archdiocese never issued an order for the removal of the remains thought to number about 5000 to 6000. One article published in April of 1879 mention 48 bodies removed from the cemetery since the prior May. Another article in 1897 mentions "Within recent years many bodies have been removed …to Key West."

In 1939 there appears to have been some effort to reclaim the cemetery, an article by W. A. Kennedy states:
… "Neglected for many years, its stones pushed over and many of them smashed, its graves hidden from site and made inaccessible in a dense growth of weeds and underbrush, the old Catholic Cemetery on Kelly's Bluff, West Third Street, is once again receiving attention.
The high weeds and dense undergrowth have been cleared off the cemetery grounds. The tombstones that were not smashed have been set upright at graves, sunken ...have been filled, and a program of giving the place continued care and eventually making the grounds more beautiful has been launched…."
…"Within a few years, the cemetery began to show neglect and fewer and fewer persons visited its graves. By the turn of the century, the cemetery was almost forgotten and was visited only by children playing on the hill, men searching for the reputed buried wealth of Tom Kelly, the pioneer miner whose name was given to the hill, or by tramps. The underbrush and weeds began to grow and soon spread over the entire space and adjoining property as well. There were only paths leading through the underbrush. Children and others began gradually to push over the tombstones and markers, any many of them were smashed…" This effort appears to have come to naught.

Throughout the years various accounts mention accidental discoveries of unmarked graves within the old cemetery boundaries during construction or excavation activities. In 2002 the land was sold and a condominium development was planned. In 2007, during the initial construction phase human remains were once again exposed and building came to halt. According to Iowa Burial Law, any body 150 years old or older is considered ancient and must be treated according to the law. A team from the Office of the State Archaeologist, University of Iowa, excavated over 900 burials from the approximately one-fourth of the cemetery between 2007 and 2011.

The Office of the State Archaeologist was able to compile a list of about 900 burials, the complete list and source data are listed in the Bioarchaeology linked below.

The information given here was mostly taken from that document.

Encyclopedia Dubuque

GPS Coordinates: 42.4943800, -90.6707300

  • Added: 17 Jan 2014
  • Find A Grave Cemetery: #2527123